Spiritual Milestones: Celebrating Your Children's Spiritual PassagesSpiritual Milestones: Celebrating Your Children's Spiritual Passages
Jim Weidmann, Janet Weidmann, J. Otis
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You and your family can embark on this incredible journey - a journey that marks seven of the significant spiritual passages your child will experience during his or her most impressionable years. This comprehensive and practical guide for parents will help you develop a personal and intentional plan for celebrating spiritual markers. Spiritual Milestones can become the anchors of your child's faith - the moorings that bind you and your child in a common faith. It's never too late! It doesn't matter if your own spiritual upbringing was weak. God will honor your efforts once you become intentional about extending your family's spiritual heritage.

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Introduction: Who Holds Your Child’s Destiny?

     As a baseball coach, can you send a kid to the plate without a bat?”
      My friend, a coach for the University of California (Fresno), puts the question to me with a sly twinkle in his eye.
      “No,” I reply tentatively, knowing this is a set-up.
      “Yes, you can,” he says, pulling me into his next question. “Can the kid get on base if you send him to the plate without a bat?”
      “Yes, he can, if the pitcher is wild and walks him.”
      I’m catching on by now and chime in, “Or if he gets beaned!”
      “Right! Now, J. Otis…”
      I brace myself for the next tricky question.
      “Can he score a run for his team if he goes to the plate without a bat?”
      Well, I’m no fool. The other answers were yes, so I say, “Yes, he can score a run for his team-with, or without, a bat.”
      “Right again! If the guys that come behind him do well. But what have you done to the kid by sending him to the plate without a bat?”
      There’s a pregnant pause before he leans forward and whispers softly but firmly: “You have put his destiny into the hands of those who oppose him.”

      The bat in the hands of the player is the is the strong heritage a child needs in order to face the curves, fastballs, and change-ups that the world will throw at him. In other words, to send our children into the world without a solid legacy means leaving their destiny in the hands of those who oppose them.

      And who is the opposition? Everything and anything that works against your child’s continued growth toward Christian maturity. That’s why many in Christian leadership throughout America have begun to realize that because of the fast pace our culture is embracing, with all its emptiness and error, we must be thoroughly intentional in sharing our love for Christ with the next generation. Our spiritual and ethical heritage must be extended, over and over again.

How Did We Drift So Far?
      As a Christian in America today, you are learning that the government is no longer your ally. Amidst all the talk of tolerance, society’s attitude toward people of faith is quickly and aggressively becoming intolerant. Christianity has been removed from our government, our schools, and many aspects of our daily lives. Even some churches have exchanged the power of the Gospel for a weak, moralistic imitation, pushing the latent “correct” agenda for social change. The deep spirituality of our Founding Fathers has been replaced by a self-centered, “if it feels good” morality and a mystical New Age spirituality.
      So what do we do? How can we turn the tide? We can grip and complain and curse the darkness, or we can become actively engaged. We can do the usual things like being active in our churches, getting involved with youth, or even sending our children to Christian schools and on mission trips.
      But it’s not going to be enough.
      Let’s face it: Now, more than ever before, we need a time of deep dedication, to the things of Christ. We can’t just set our sights on eternity and let this life slide by. We can’t just hope that it turns out well down here. If we’re going to need an Esther or Joseph in these dark times, we must become more determined to raise them. Our nation needs them as salt and light. And the best thing we can offer our children is to help them love the Lord their God with all their hearts. As Pastor Ben Haden of Chattanooga put it: “The Lord offers us more than the world on its very best day.”

How Can Milestones Help?
      We firmly believe that one key to solving our “heritage drifting” problem is to firmly establish Spiritual Milestones in our families. What, exactly, is a Spiritual Milestone? It’s an event, preceded by a period of instruction from parents, which celebrates a spiritual developmental point in a child’s life. In the coming chapters of this book, you’ll explore seven important Spiritual Milestones. By using the step-by-step plan provided, you can guide your child through a time of discussion and instruction that culminates in a special rite-of-passage event or ceremony. These Milestones become important traditions for several reasons:

1) Milestone events create a catalyst for deepening the parent/child relationship during those times when your child is most receptive to your values and beliefs;
2) Milestones enhance communication and help establish a pattern for how the parents will relate to their children throughout the growth years;
3) Milestones help establish the parents as the spiritual leaders and spiritual heart of the home;
4) Milestones create a strategic plan for moving your child toward spiritual maturity while also creating and modeling a spiritual heritage for children and grandchildren;
5) Milestones make a power impression on your child’s mind and heart, including a ceremony that continues to inspire the child'’ spiritual hunger;
6) Milestones gives parents an effective way to address critical spiritual and developmental issues, often before they become problematic;
7) Milestones provide a process to keep the parents engaged in the relationship during the critical preteen and teen years;
8) Milestones present your child with the most important thing in life-a solid identity in Jesus Christ.

      In our house, we (Janet and Jim) mark the height of each child every year on a special door. If, in one of the growth years, we were to notice no difference in a child’s height, we would panic. We’d want to take the child to the Mayo Clinic-now! But how many of us have the same degree of intentionality in measuring our children’s spiritual growth? By using Spiritual Milestones, we think parents can establish spiritual marker-points while fostering the parent/child relationship and encouraging our children’s spiritual growth process.
      Naturally, before we can meaningfully celebrate any spiritual milestone, we must plan and prepare; only then will it have the intended impact. No event will magically make your child a “Super Christian” any more than a wedding ceremony creates a faithful husband or a loving wife. Your children will have to choose to follow Christ daily, just as we are called to do. Yet a deep personal commitment to Jesus Christ remains our hope for our own children, for your children, and for the youth of our entire nation. It will take a strong commitment from parents just like you-those who care deeply about spiritual heritage-to turn the tide and take up the challenge to turn our hope into reality.

What’s a Parent to Do?
      You may be wondering at this point: Exactly what is my role as a parent in all of this? Every parent is called to teach their children about God and to help them connect with God’s grace. In other words, we are to prepare our children not only for their earthly life but for eternity as well.
      A recent survey by George Barna found that between the ages of 5 and 13 a child has a 32 percent probability of accepting Christ as Lord and Savior. Between the ages of 14 and 18, the probability drops to 4 percent. From 19 until death, the probability holds at 6 percent. Another supporting statistic is that 85 percent of those who become Christians do so between the ages of 4 and 18. Clearly certain ages offer important opportunities. Who better than a parent to seize this opportunity to lead our children to Christ?
      As parents, we can take spiritual events and make them into significant life-changing memorials-if we are willing to make them a priority. Understanding three stages of child development may help you as you begin planning how to lead your children through the Milestones. We will explain these developmental phases in more detail as we offer ideas in later chapters for building traditions into your family.

* * *

The Format
      In each chapter you will find a relevant, theme-focusing opening to get you started thinking about the importance of the particular Milestone you are exploring. This section is both personal and practical, and it is our hope it will inspire you to reflect on your own spiritual heritage and stir your creativity as you contemplate your child’s spiritual heritage.
      Next you’ll discover the “Milestone-At-a-Glance,” a basic description of the Milestone. This outline will tell you (1) what the Spiritual Milestone is and why it is important; (2) the goal of the Milestone; (3) the recommended age-range for a child approaching this Milestone; (4) an idea for a symbol to serve as a reminder of the Milestone; (5) the relational emphasis or the recommended role of the parent; (6) any new privileges the Milestone brings to the child; and (7) ideas and suggestions for a ceremony to celebrate your child’s spiritual passage f this Milestone.
      Third, you’ll get into the “Background Information” section for the parent. This is where you do some reading to “beef up” your own understanding before you set up discussion times with your child. Our goal has been to supply you with the knowledge you need to feel competent and comfortable. It is complete but not exhaustive.
Finally, each chapter concludes with a “Parent & Child Discussion Guide.” It will normally follow the same pattern (with its length being determined by the number of weeks or themes covered). Step 1 lays out the topic to be discussed. Step 2 discusses why the topic is important, using Scripture and family values. Step 3 gives practical ways to live out the principles and values discussed. Both Steps 2 and 3 encourage the parent to frankly talk about personal and family experiences related to the topic. Each session lasts about 30 minutes. You will most likely do one session a day.

Take the Time to Customize
      We can’t emphasize this enough: the chapters of this book are actually a parent’s manual, or guide for leading a child in discussion. This is your special opportunity to take the concepts, principles, and ideas and convey them to your child in your own words. You see, you know your child best. You know his age and maturity level. You know his ability to think and comprehend. So be ready to learn the concepts and then distill them for your child in the most “graspable” form. And remember, your faith stories and life experiences are part of your child’s heritage-use this time to share your own personal experiences and stories related to the theme.
      Our seven recommended “basic” Milestones are what we believe are the most important points of spiritual development. Naturally, you can supplement or modify the material in any way you desire, depending on the requirements of your family situation. Our intent is to provide you with a template you can customize to meet your family’s needs. The discussion-guide approach becomes particularly useful during the preteen and teen years, when the parent has a responsibility to do a significant amount of listening.

A Few “Coaching” Tips
      Most parents find the Milestone discussion/instruction periods to be a very enjoyable and rewarding experience. To ensure this is the case for you, here are a few basic pointers:

Tip#1:Be intentional about scheduling your discussion times. Life today is so fast-paced! We found we needed to clear our calendars and schedule the time to focus on our children. You may need to do the same. These are intense and intimate conversations-you need to be fully available to your child. Each child is different and has a different level of understanding and rate of grasping new ideas. If you’re rushed, you may not pick up on your child’s needs or you may miss out on a special insightful moment.
Tip#2:Review the material for familiarity. The first time you go through the material may well be the first time you’ve encountered many of the concepts and principles you’re hoping to convey to your child. Start by asking God to give you wisdom and increase your understanding. Then read through the material and the verses carefully. Do further research on anything that still seems unclear to you, using commentaries and other resources to supplement the material in this guide. Think through what types of “side issues” may arise in your discussions and prepare some possible responses. Your confidence will rise in direct proportion to how prepared you feel!
Tip#3: Always keep in mind that the key to this guide is to discuss. The intent is to have a discussion-not a lecture! One of your primary goals is to draw your child’s thoughts out into the open so that you can both identify and correct any misconceptions. The brief “answer” to each discussion question has been provided for your reference only; use it merely as a starting point for deeper exploration together.
Tip#4: Adjust the discussion/teaching time to fit the attention span sitting before you! Attention spans will vary from child to child. Try to discern your child’s capacity as you proceed. You want to avoid reaching the point of diminishing returns when it comes to his or her ability to focus. Remember, the goal is to engage your child in the discussion by using questions and your own stories and examples.
Tip#5: Make full use of the power of symbols. Each of the Milestone events can be memorialized through a symbolic gift given to the child to represent the special occasion. This “symbol” then becomes a constant reminder of the commitment or biblical principle the Spiritual Milestone represents. In this book, we’ll suggest such symbols as the promise ring, the family cross, and the family signet ring. But the specific gifts may vary from family to family. We encourage you to come up with ideas that have special meaning for you and your child.
Tip#6: Remember that it is never too late! Many parents will come across this material after they have children who’ve grown beyond several of the Milestone age ranges. But remember that the age-range years presented are for a “ballpark” reference only. The age in which you elect to teach your child any of these Milestones depends on the child’s maturity level and spiritual development. Therefore, you may choose to combine, delay, or extend any of the Milestone discussion/teaching times to fit your unique family situation.
Tip#7 Be prepared to deal with challenging issues. Due to the nature of the Milestones content, you may often step onto sensitive ground with your children. You’ll walk with them through their deepest needs and concerns, such as self-esteem issues, sexual development matters, and all manner of emotional and spiritual questions and anxieties. But hang in there! We’ve learned that if you are opne and honest with your children, they will be open and honest with you. So move ahead boldly.
     The bottom line is that, no matter what format we use, we must chose to be intentional in planning and measuring the spiritual growth of our children. By creating spiritual markers for your children, we can deepen our relationships, activate our children’s spiritual thirst, and provide them with a strong identity in Christ. Simply put, these Milestones offer you a strategic plan for the spiritual training and development of your children. Our prayers are with you as you enter into this awesome adventure.